Creative Field Techniques - Polarizer filter

You can also check out my YouTube video titled "Using Polarizer Filters".

Like many nature photographers that include water in their images, I often use polarizer filters to cut out the glare on the water and to enrich the tones. For example, when capturing a marine animal that is just below the surface of the water, a polarizer filter allows you to see the details of the subject without the interference of the glaring haze. This is the case in the image above of an upside down (cassiopiea) jellyfish that was about 6 inches below the surface.

Without the polarizer filter, the details of the jellyfish would be lost behind the hazy glare. How a polarizer filter works is by blocking light waves that hit the filter perpendicularly (think of light passing through partially opened window blinds). For the most dramatic effect, the direction of the sun should be approximately 90 degrees from the filter; the results are deeper or more saturated colors in the image (especially sky and water). If you're inclined to know, read about the physics behind these filters here.

Often, I photograph in an area of the Everglades where shallow waters cover a marl prairie during Florida's wet season. If I use a polarizer lens here, everything below the surface of the water is obvious. For example, in the image below, I wanted to compose a scene that included the little mangrove seedling and cloud reflections. But more importantly, I wanted to include the cracked marl ground that was covered in water. In order to do that, I needed the polarizer filter. This was shot after several weeks of steady rain that followed a very long drought period. The drought caused the marl prairie to dry up and crack, which is what you see in the foreground.

Often, I do not use a polarizer filter when I photograph in this location. This is because I find an intimate scene where I want to isolate my subject from its surroundings. I don't want the marl and grasses that are below the surface of the water to show through. An example is below where the glare on the water serves as negative space for this simple scene. Had I used a polarizer filter, the blue tones would appear darker and the underwater grasses and the marl floor would interfere with the scene I was going for.

There are plenty of tools available to a photographer to help her achieve her artistic goals; the polarizer filter is one. It is an especially useful tool when photographing water or sky at midday and you want those saturated blue skies or water reflections, like the image below. On the other hand, it is equally as important to know when NOT to use a polarizer filter. Bottom line is, experiment, play and learn!  Thank you for looking on! 

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